Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!

The Anusha-khan bathhouse

"I invited them for an evening at the Anusha Khan homom. Madrim declined, stating that it would be undignified to disrobe in front of his apprentices. The rest of us set off after work, armed with towels and shampoo. The homom - one of the oldest in Central Asia - was tucked between the Strongman's Gate and the White Mosque. Unfortunately, the interior had been modernised. Inside a domed hallway an ancient television garlanded with plastic flowers spluttered to life, a greasy, threadbare couch in front of it. A home-made bar sold drinks and soap. Next to this was a corridor in which shifty-looking men waited impatiently. Toychi - an authority on the subject - explained that this was one of the most popular brothels in Khiva. The communal homom, once a stone domed maze, had been partitioned into three separate chambers, each with a grubby Russian-style sauna and shower inside. We entered one of them and I watched Davlatnaza peel off his filthy trousers, explaining superfluously that this was his first time in a homom. There was no bathroom in his house and I wondered when was the last time - if ever - that he had actually washed. He used the shower first - a thick snake of dirty water pouring down the drain. Once showered, we sat in the sauna and I asked them if they knew how the Anusha Khan homom got its name. They didn't, and - as it was one of my favourite stories garnered from Isak the guide - I decided to tell it to them."

Christopher Aslan Alexander "A Carpet Ride to Khiva" 2010

The Anusha-khan bathhouse is located near to the Ak-mosque. It was constructed in 1657 and was under constant repair and reconstructed repeatedly. It is considered, that it was constructed as the waqf for this mosque in honour of the Anusha-khan by his father -the Abulgazi-khan (1644-1664) - the governor and the well known historian.

The Anusha-khan bathhouse is interesting in its heating, water supply and sewerage systems. This is of a semi-underground construction with a number of premises and an underground heating system. The premises are deep in the ground to allow the heat to remain longer. Domes of the bathhouse with its light vertical apertures in zenith are only visible outside. Like other eastern bathhouses it consists of a lobby and premises for undressing and bathing.

Legend about Anush

There are many legends about the history of the Anush-khan bathhouse. They are connected with its construction by the Anush Mohammed Sultan after his successful campaign in Kermina. Once the Bukhara governor - the Abdulaziz-khan - unexpectedly attacked the Abdulgazi-khan army, and, thanks only to the Anush Mohammed Sultan's courage and resources, the attack was beaten off. The Abdulgazi-khan gave a big feast, and recognised his merits in public and gave him the regal banner.

Another curious legend also notes:

There had once been a young prince called Abdul, who fell madly in love with his distant cousin, Anusha. They talked of a future together, the prince declaring that he would take no other wives, for his heart would always belong to her. Tragically, Anusha suffered from incurable ill health and as she lay on her deathbed, the prince sobbed, clasping her hand. He vowed never to forget her, promising to name his first daughter Anusha in her memory.

The years passed and the grief-stricken prince became Abdul Gazi, Khan of Khiva.

Determined that Anusha's memory should live on through a daughter, the Khan was constantly frustrated as his plethora of wives bore him son after son. Finally, in exasperation, he summoned his entire harem and railed against this conspiracy. The next woman to bear him a son, he declared, would be executed along with her baby.

This was particularly bad news for one heavily pregnant wife, and even worse when she gave birth to a son. In desperation, she wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes and - with nothing to lose - presented him to the Khan, saying: 'At last, my master, here is your first daughter, Anusha.'

The Khan, happy to take her word for it, was delighted and Anusha quickly became his favourite - the mother showered with favours.

Anusha grew up freer than other girls, keen to ride and hear stories of battle. The Khan enjoyed her company, secure in the knowledge that a daughter would not be plotting patricide as some of his sons were wont to do. Anusha, pained at the deception, longed to tell her father the truth, but knew that this would condemn both her and her mother to death. The Khan, oblivious to this, could not understand why Anusha, at the ripe age of fourteen, had dissolved into tears at the mention of marriage.

But all plans for Anusha's betrothal were placed on hold as the Khan prepared for war against the Emir of Bukhara. Together with his sons and vast army, the Khan rode off,to battle, leaving the city of Khiva largely undefended. This fact had not escaped the attention of a marauding band of Turkmen robbers. They planned a massive raid on Khiva to loot and pillage with impunity. Wisely, the Khan had installed his spies among the Turkmen and one of them sent word to Khiva of an imminent attack.

Pandemonium broke out within the harem, but as the Khan's wives became hysterical, Anusha veiled herself and ordered the Royal Guard to assemble before her. She had a plan, simple and audacious. The remaining soldiers were to call up the entire adult population of the city and have the women dress in men's clothes, bringing with them all horses and donkeys. They would then assemble in battle formation outside the Grandfather Gate, with the Royal Guard stationed in the front two rows.

This done, Anusha joined the ranks of unlikely soldiers standing before the gate. Soon, a cloud of dust, visible in the distance, announced the arrival of the Turkmens. They drew closer and closer until the captain of the Royal Guard gave the order to charge. The pretend army surged forward on horseback, on donkeys or on foot. The ruse worked. The bandits, assuming that the Khan had discovered their scheme and returned to slaughter them, turned tail and galloped away as fast as they could. Anusha had saved her city from certain destruction.

Hearing of this, the Khan swiftly returned from the battlefield, throwing a lavish banquet in honour of Anusha. As the celebration progressed, the Khan summoned his daughter before him.

'Anusha, my daughter,' he began. 'Today I owe you my Khanate and my honour. What is it that you want? Name it and it shall be yours.'

Anusha thought for a moment and said in a quiet voice: 'If it please my father and master, I ask for only two things: my life and the life of my mother.'

There was a puzzled silence, followed by assent from the Khan. Anusha then took his father aside, revealing his true identity and explaining his mother's subterfuge. The Khan was gracious, and declared: 'Behold, my son Anusha. To him will I give my inheritance and he will become Khan after me.'

And so Anusha became Khan, and he and his father are both entombed in the Pakhlavan Mahmud mausoleum. The Khan bequeathed Anusha the city of Hazerasp, and named Khiva's homom after him.